For those curious about what I’m up to these days, I chatted with Susan Delacourt about correspondence in the PMO this week. Also contains some fun stories about what happens when the Prime Minister starts cold calling Canadians who wrote in to him.
Every December, I name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year, for good or for bad. This isn’t an award for the best or the most admirable politician – it’s someone who had an impact.
Below is a list of recent choices:
2014: Kathleen Wynne
2013: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein
No matter how you slice it, Justin Trudeau was the star of Canadian politics in 2015, and the man who left the largest mark. That’s a given. His win was historic. He defeated a united Conservative Party and a viable NDP, quintupling the Liberal seat total, and moving them from third to first. Anyone who claims the election wasn’t about Trudeau must have missed the tens of millions of dollars the Conservatives spent over the past few years trying to make the election about him.
But the one rule I have for this yearly post is that the Prime Minister (or in this case, Prime Ministers) is exempt. And given I happen to be working for him, it’s likely best if we just place Justin Trudeau and his team to the side, and look elsewhere for a candidate.
Mike Duffy, Aylan Kurdi, and Zunera Ishaq all had an impact on the political scene, but it’s hard to argue the election turned on the Senate scandal, refugees, or the niqab. Joe Oliver’s budget set the fiscal framework for the balanced budget debate and was a foil for Trudeau’s middle class message. But Oliver was merely the messenger (and not a very good one).
We could go round and round looking at the impact different individuals had on the federal election, but it’s hard to have missed what happened in Alberta earlier this year. Which makes my 2015 person of the year none other than Rachel Notley.
The old joke is “If you don’t like the weather in Alberta, wait 30 minutes. If you don’t like the government, wait 30 years.” So even by those absurdist standards, the PCs were growing long in the tooth.
Alison Redford certainly didn’t help the situation when she expensed a $45,000 flight (plus that damn $25 luggage fee). Exit Redford. Enter Jim Prentice, who soared to a 20-point lead in the polls on the strength of two popular policies:
1. Scrapping an unpopular plan to redesign Alberta license plates.
2. Not being Alison Redford.
When he enticed Danielle Smith to cross the floor, it looked like we were heading for a rout. Funny thing is, for those who believed the PCs had lost their way, enticing Smith to cross the floor did more to re-enforce than dispel that sentiment.
So did a snap election, on the heels of an unpopular budget.
Up to now I’ve been building a stronger case for Jim Prentice as person of the year, by detailing how the PCs defeated themselves. But the PCs had done a fairly good defeating themselves in the lead up to the 2008 and 2012 elections too. The reason they survived is that Kevin Taft and Danielle Smith were not judged as viable alternatives. Rachel Notley was.
Notley won in places where NDP candidates haven’t gotten their deposits back in generations, by presenting a moderate platform. She convincingly sold controversial planks on corporate taxes and the oilsands. She filled change voters with confidence not just that she would bring about change, but that she could handle the job.
Knocking off Canada’s longest serving government is probably enough to make Notley the person of the year, but it’s worth reflecting on what her win did to the federal dynamic. Even though Notley made Tom Mulcair feel about as welcome in Alberta as a Canucks fan during the provincial campaign, the Alberta NDP’s victory vaulted the federal NDP to first in the polls overnight. While this didn’t ultimately usher in a new orange era nationally, it would be curious to peer into an alternate universe where Notley came up short, to see if Mulcair would have taken more risks had he entered the campaign in third rather than first.
Regardless, as a progressive voice in what has traditionally been a conservative province, Notley will certainly be a star on the federal scene for years to come. Her ambitious climate change announcement shows she plans to use her historic win to make history, even if it means taking risks.
It also turns the national debate around pipelines and the environment on its head, making consensus on both these files far more likely than they would have been under a Prentice (or Jean) administration.
Notley’s win completely changed the way the rest of Canada sees Alberta. Along with Don Iveson, Naheed Nenshi, and a quartet of new Liberal MPs, Notley is now the new face of the “new Alberta”. That makes her the face of 2015.
Here’s what I wrote about the Census back in 2010:
The debate focuses on the long form. Those trying to axe the Census argue these questions are an invasion of privacy. “Why the hell should the government know what time I leave to go to work?” they shout angrily on their twitter accounts and in Toronto Sun editorials.
“Well,” the other side argues “so that cities can build roads and public transit to help you get to work on time. Duh.”
The reality is we live in an information age, and long form Census data is a valuable source of information. Governments use it to help plan communities and programs. Hospitals need it to provide the right kind of services and fight pandemics. Researches use it to track demographic trends over time. Masters students, like Stephen Harper, use it to write thesis papers. Think tanks, like the Fraser Institute, use it to prove their kooky right wing theories. And businesses use it all the time – just think of restaurants and grocery stores that sell ethnic foods or cater to specific client demographics.
Here’s what I wrote about it a year and a half ago:
I’ve never been of the opinion that Stephen Harper is a monster who has destroyed Canada beyond recognition. Even on issues where we disagree – the gun registry, climate change, Quebec as a nation – I understand where he’s coming from. However, of everything Harper has done, his decision to scrap the long form census remains the thing that boils my blood. Here was the party who sends Happy Hanukkah cards to swing voters calling the census too “intrusive”. It wasn’t an assault on the welfare state or big government, it was an assault on reason. It showed that Harper offered nothing more than government by truthiness.
And that, is why I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next bit to help defeat him.
So it kind of goes without saying that I am elated by today’s announcement that the mandatory long-form census is coming back.
Three years ago, there were very real questions being asked about whether or not the Liberal Party would still exist after the next federal election. The party was in a death spiral, having fallen to just 35 seats in the previous election.
I was still blogging regularly at the time – this was long before I went to work for the party, and I still hadn’t even decided if I would actually vote for Trudeau in the leadership race (after all, Takachmentum and Mernermania was spreading across the land!). I summed up my reaction to Trudeau’s leadership launch with a blog post titled “Ready or Not”:
During this time, I suspect most Liberals secretly viewed Justin as “the next one” – that hot shot prospect you pin your hopes on. Like all prospects, the potential was there, but so was the risk he could bust and turn into the next Alexandre Daigle.
No one wanted to rush him to the majors this soon, and I’m sure Justin himself would have rather waited – but we’re in a situation where there may not be a Liberal Party for Justin Trudeau to lead in 10 years, so the time is now. Ready or not, here he comes.
The end result of this is a leadership race where no one really knows what to expect from the frontrunner. Yes, everybody has confidently written about how he’s destined to be the Liberal saviour or to go down in flames, but Justin is still very much an unknown so it’s all just speculation. A charity boxing match is not a gateway to the man’s soul. Just because he hasn’t been to outer space, it doesn’t mean he lacks substance or vision.
Justin Trudeau is a giant blob of untested potential who Liberals have been pinning their hopes on for many years. Yesterday, he finally got his call to the majors.
I never imagined we’d spend the next three years debating that very “ready or not” question.
Even Trudeau’s harshest critics who cringe at the thought of him moving back into 24 Sussex will concede he had a good campaign. And part of the reason for that is because of his harshest critics. They made “ready to lead” the ballot question. Then, like Wile E. Coyote, set a series of traps that horribly backfired – a 78 day campaign and 5 debates, including one on foreign policy. This gave voters plenty of opportunities to look at Trudeau, and every time they did, the guy looked and sounded ready.
And that’s because he is.
Despite the accusation that he has had everything in his life handed to him, Trudeau has constantly been under-estimated, and has constantly exceeded expectations. We saw it when he won an open nomination to enter politics, when he wrestled a seat away from the Bloc in 2008, and when he survived the orange wave in 2011. We even saw it in the silly boxing match.
Having seen the man close up for the past 18 months, I can say that the reason he has constantly exceeded expectations is hard work and determination. Those characteristics are going to make him a very good Prime Minister.
When I first started blogging over ten years ago, I wasn’t sure a night like tonight would ever come to pass. But, ladies and gentlemen, I present your first TWO Calgary Liberal MPs in over 40 years:
And a very honourable mention to Matt Grant in Calgary Confederation, who ran one of the best campaigns in the country, but fell oh so short.
For Calgary Liberals who have had doors slammed in their faces, who have been the punchline of countless political jokes, who have worked hard for great candidates only to see them in single digits on election night. For all of you, yesterday was truly gratifying.
Seeing the Liberal Party leader make TWO stops in Alberta the last day of an election campaign is unprecedented. Seeing him cheered by thousands at both stops is mind-blowing. I won’t prejudge the electorate, but regardless of how election night turns out, after a grueling 78 days, nothing warms my heart more than these images.
Advance polls are open. Be sure to get out and vote.
Looks ready to me.